THE WORLD OF LABOR — June 4, 2011

By Harry Kelber

European Railroad Workers Reject ‘Fragmentation'

More than 1,000 European railroad workers stood in front of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, last week to demand an end to plans that are designed to break up the railways. On May 24, workers from 15 countries reacted strongly to the European Parliament’s debate on a directive for the establishment of a single European railway area, which constitutes a “recast” of the first railway package. This proposes the further fragmentation of railroad companies.

Sabine Trier, deputy general secretary of the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF), stated: “The ETF explicitly asked the members of the EP TRAN Committee to take the workers’ concerns into consideration and come up with a balanced and social European policy that promotes a strong and public railway sector for all European citizens, with good quality, safe and secure railway services.”

Guy Grievelding, president of the ETF railway section, added: “This campaign has the objective to raise awareness that, when the directive is implemented, the idea of railways as a service of general interest or public service will be completely abandoned.” The EP TRAN committee and the European Parliament will vote on the directive in July and September respectively

Argentina’s Trade Union Wins 30% Pay Increase

The Trade Employees Union ((SEC) reached a deal with local corporations that grants employees a 30 percent wage increase this year. The pay raise is expected to affect more than a million workers and will be paid in three separate installments, beginning with a 15 percent rise in May, an 8 percent in August and a 7 percent in December.

“The chambers of commerce wanted to close a deal right after the union’s elections,” that took place June 2, a SEC official said. The agreement will be ratified at a meeting between re-elected leader Cavalieri and Chamber of Commerce officials at the Labor Ministry offices.

The signing of the agreement is said to strike a blow to CGT leader Hugo Moyano, because he had demanded only a 24 percent increase in three installments to be paid until March 2012. However, under the terms of the new contract, negotiations for new pay adjustments should begin next January.

70,000 Mexican Teachers Protest Use of Test Scores

Seventy thousand teachers in the Mexican state of Oaxaca struck May 23, demanding better educational methods and facilities for their students. The teachers are making no new wage demands. They insist, however, that the Oaxaca state government install computers in all elementary schools. They are also strongly opposed to the idea of rewarding educators who focus their instruction on getting high student scores on a new national standardized test.

Oaxaca is a stronghold of a a long-standing opposition caucus in the teachers union. It opposes the union president, Elba Esther Gordillo, who signed an agreement, rewarding teachers whose students get high test scores. Known for their militancy, the Oaxaca teachers blockaded government offices and private companies, closed major intersections and “liberated” the toll booths on the privately-owned highways to Mexico City.

Under the agreement between Mexican President Felipe Calderon and the union president, teachers whose students do well in standardized national tests are rewarded with substantial bonuses. The teachers say that test-driven education is bad for both students and teachers, and that linking bonuses and prizes to test scores will encourage fraud.

Chinese Workers Owed Billions in Failed Payments

Unpaid wages are thought to most affect China’s migrant workers, who number more than 200 million. In 2008, the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions reported that unpaid wages that year totaled 100 billion yuan (U.S. $15.4 billion) with construction workers owed two-thirds of that amount. The following year, state media reported 175 billion yuan was owed to workers.

The issue has been raised at China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress, with delegates suggesting employers should contribute to a “security fund” that would ensure workers were paid in the event employers defaulted. In Chongqing, the authorities took more drastic action, deploying a SWAT team of police to raid a construction site where workers were owed up to 20,000 yuan each.

One reason why workers are cheated of their pay is that the government does not have enough inspectors to enforce the law. In addition, many workers on contract have no proof of how much they are owed. It is also a problem in manufacturing, when worker go without salaries when factories struggle with cash flow or shut down.

Spain Will Act to Approve New Wage Rules

The Spanish government will approve an overhaul of wage bargaining rules next week, with or without an accord between unions and employers, Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said.

Three months of talks between the Spanish Confederation of Business Organizations and the country’s biggest union, CGT, and Comisiones Obrera broke down on June 3, John Rosell, chairman of Spain’s CEOE business lobby, told a televised news conference in Madrid that that rules on hiring and firing are too complicated and rigid in Spain.

Rosell charged that the unions blocked an accord. “Everyone agreed about the need to be flexible, but when it came to putting it down in black and white, we couldn’t come up with an agreement,” he said. Spanish labor costs have risen an average 4.2 percent a year, and wages continued to increase even as the country slid into the deepest recession in six decades.

Japan Relaxes Worker Dress Code to Save Energy

The Japanese government wants the country’s office workers to shed their suits in an attempt to use less energy on air conditioning systems this summer. The government’s “Super Cool Biz” campaign encourages employees to wear outfits appropriate to the office, yet cool enough to endure the summer heat.

The idea for summer officewear was first introduced in 2005 by the then Environment Minister, Yuriko Koike. “When we started Cool Biz in 2005, people said it was undignified and sloppy,” Ms. Koike said at the fashion show held to kick off this year’s campaign. “But this is now the sixth year and people have grown accustomed to it,” she said.

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